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The Cable

U.S.-China dialogue gets underway

Tomorrow kicks off the first meeting of the U.S. China Strategic and Economic Dialogue, the Obama administration’s twist on a process started under former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson. That process, known as the Strategic Economic Dialogue (no "and"), was primarily intended to address bilateral economic issues such as the dollar-renminbi exchange rate. The two countries ...

Tomorrow kicks off the first meeting of the U.S. China Strategic and Economic Dialogue, the Obama administration’s twist on a process started under former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson. That process, known as the Strategic Economic Dialogue (no "and"), was primarily intended to address bilateral economic issues such as the dollar-renminbi exchange rate.

The two countries — which have become known as the "G-2" in foreign-policy circles due to their preeminent size and geopolitical reach — will still be tackling economic issues like the global financial crisis. But this time, a State Department official tells Foreign Policy, the agenda is "much broader and more comprehensive," encompassing global issues such as climate change, and regional ones such as North Korea, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

Two top-ranking Chinese officials, Vice Premier Wang Qishan and State Councilor Dai Bingguo, will be in Washington for meetings Monday and Tuesday with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who has just returned from meetings in India and Thailand.

"Simply put, few global problems can be solved by the U.S. or China alone," the two secretaries write in a Wall Street Journal op-ed published online Sunday. "And few can be solved without the U.S. and China together."

Among other priorities, the Obama administration is hoping to convince China to agree to curb its emissions of carbon dioxide ahead of a key climate-change conference in Copenhagen in December; Beijing, focused on economic growth at all costs, is resisting U.S. pressure.

Clinton’s latest efforts to persuade India to consider capping its emissions met with a stiff rebuff in New Delhi on her recent trip. Without greater buy-in from China and India, many climate experts say, the Copenhagen talks are bound to disappoint.

Washington is also looking to Beijing to put pressure on a defiant North Korean regime that has launched a series of provocative missile and nuclear tests in recent months and refuses to return to the "six-party" regional talks over its nuclear program.

"China has been extremely positive and productive in respect to North Korea," Clinton said on NBC’s Meet the Press Sunday. "The big issue in previous times was well, how do we get China to really be working to change North Korean behavior? I will be starting, along with Secretary Geithner, an intensive two days with Chinese high-level representatives tomorrow and Tuesday.  But on North Korea, we have been extremely gratified by their forward-leaning commitment to sanctions and the private messages that they have conveyed to the North Koreans."

Another State Department official said that Clinton is "asserting back" the department’s role and claiming "leadership in shaping U.S.-China relations." The official said that thanks to Clinton, "State is playing the role it must — both on the level we’re engaging with the Chinese but also … that State is going to play a bigger role (as it should) in global economic issues."

"Personnel wise," he added, "folks like Hormats will be part of that reassertion of influence as well," referring to former Goldman Sachs executive Robert Hormats, who has been nominated to be under secretary of state for economic, energy and agricultural affairs. (Hormats is a member of FP‘s editorial board.)

One senior U.S. official, who had been involved in an earlier iteration of the U.S.-Russia Commission, recently told Foreign Policy that while such "strategic dialogues" and commissions may seem as diffuse and unfocused confabs to outsiders, dealing with complex relationships with countries such as Russia, China and India in such multi-layered channels can be stabilizing, including by providing regular contact between multiple officials at various levels with their counterparts rather than relying on what an ambassador or single official may signal even inadvertently at any one time.

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